China Says 'Reckless' U.S. to Blame for Military Buildup in South China Sea

China lashed out Monday at the U.S. Navy for provoking trouble in the South China Sea, after Washington sailed a guided-missile destroyer near the disputed Huangyan Island without permission from the Chinese government last week.

China’s foreign ministry claims the USS Hopper warship came within 12 nautical miles of the island, better known as the Scarborough Shoal, last week. The island is subject to a rival claim by the Philippines, historically a U.S. ally.

It was the latest U.S. naval operation challenging extensive Chinese claims in the South China Sea and came as President Donald Trump’s administration seeks Chinese cooperation in dealing with North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs.

USS_Hopper_Destroyer A visit, board, search and seizure team from the destroyer USS Hopper departs to perform a boarding exercise on September 9, 2006. On Monday, China blasted the U.S. for recklessly "making trouble" after the Hopper sailed near Huangyan Island in the South China Sea without permission last week. Reuters

The ruling Communist Party’s official media outlet, the People’s Daily, said in a commentary that with the situation generally improving in the South China Sea, it was clear that the United States was responsible for militarizing the region.

“Against this backdrop of peace and cooperation, a U.S. ship wantonly provoking trouble is single-minded to the point of recklessness,” the paper said.

“If the relevant party once more makes trouble out of nothing and causes tensions, then it will only cause China to reach this conclusion: in order to earnestly protect peace in the South China Sea, China must strengthen and speed up the building of its abilities there,” it continued.

The commentary was published under the pen name Zhong Sheng, meaning “Voice of China,” which is often used when the paper’s views on foreign policy issues are published.

In the English version of the report, the paper said, “The reckless provocation ended in disgrace for the U.S. Navy.”

The widely read Global Times tabloid, published by the People’s Daily, said in an editorial on Monday that China’s control of the South China Sea is only growing and that it is well placed to react to U.S. “provocations.”

“As China’s military size and quality improve, so does its control of the South China Sea,” it said. “China is able to send more naval vessels as a response and can take steps like militarizing islands.”

The Scarborough Shoal is located within the Philippines’s 200-nautical-mile Exclusive Economic Zone, but an international tribunal ruled in 2016 that it is a traditional fishing ground that no one country has sole rights to exploit.

The U.S. military says that it carries out “freedom of navigation” operations throughout the world, including areas claimed by allies, and that they are separate from political considerations.

The Pentagon has not commented directly on the latest patrol but said such operations are routine.